Fans of his early, sonoristic works must have had tremendous faith in the composer and in the rightness of his stylistic choices, if this one composition caused them to undergo a radical conversion. The immediate change of audience preferences led them from “expressive sonorism” to “new spirituality”. And the new faith of Penderecki’s followers was to be strengthened only three years later by his St. Luke Passion, of which the Stabat Mater then became an integral part (from 60’53” on our recording).
The novel elements in Penderecki’s music depended on strong, distinct references to musical and spiritual tradition of the west. The new composition was most frequently described as “archaic”, “ascetic” and “austere”.
We could ask which came first, the chicken or the egg? The religious theme, tackled by the composer only once at that point, in The Psalms of David, or an aesthetic turn? Whatever the answer might be, in the setting of the medieval sequence Stabat Mater, the composer’s attention shifted from internal sound constituents to elements that had traditionally dominated in a musical work: harmony, melody and rhythm.
In his work on the specific form of the composition, however, Penderecki
begins, as before, with the text, reducing it to six tercets, the rhymed
three-line stanzas. Individual words receive a peculiar treatment, as the
syllables are “distributed” among three choirs that not only sing, but often
speak or whisper. Penderecki draws on Gregorian chant, on the tradition of Ockeghem
and his contemporaries, and also on his own experiences with dodecaphony and “naturalistic”
sound qualities. The first culmination of the piece leads to the three 16-part
choirs crying out “Christe”. This
creates a huge cluster built of fourth chords, echoed three times in successive
clusters notated in the score in the form of “trees” or “bunches” of sounds.
The piece ends with another culmination and the reverberating word “Gloria”, this time constructed upon the
pure G-major chord.